The Principal-Leader: A Question of Governmentality?

Year: 2015

Author: Gobby, Brad

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The globalised neo-liberal policy discourse is transforming the direct bureaucratic regulation of state schools to an indirect model of self-governance, with state schools increasingly construed as autonomous, independent, free and competitive. Decentralization and contractualism have resulted in principals assuming a greater degree of freedom from educational bureaucracies; however, with freedom comes great responsibility. Principals are increasingly responsible for the effective management, leadership and performance of their schools, whilst the regulatory and accountability mechanisms surrounding schooling hold principals to externally determined standards. This chapter explores the role of the discourses of leadership in exacting responsibility from principals increasingly enjoined to exercise their autonomy. Using Foucauldian studies in governmentality, this paper examines how current notions of school leadership operate as a politically shaped regime of government. This regime makes into a responsibility the conduct of principal autonomy by cultivating a certain kind of professional identity through which principalship is to be understood and enacted. Broadly congruent with the “modes of intelligibility and representation” of political programmers, popular educational leadership texts contrive new ways of thinking about and enacting principalship in response to our neoliberal times. The principal is to be a prudent planner and self-manager, an innovative and entrepreneurial leader, independent and rational, flexible and goal-oriented, caring and pastoral, and transformational. This linking of leadership to subjectivity is central to critical and poststructuralist analyses of “leadership” that seek to emphasise its political, constitutive and performative dimensions. The paper reflects on the benefits of using the governmentality perspective to question the nature of leadership, by better understanding how principal leadership is tethered to the problematic of liberal government.